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A look back at recent biomedical breakthroughs thanks to animal research

On the eve of Biomedical Research Awaerness Day (BRAD 18 April), EARA looks back at some of the important medical advances over the last year that have involved research using animals.

Among the breakthroughs reported, that benefit both humans and animals, are:

  • Research using mice led to many new breakthroughs, such as multiple sclerosis research, at the University of Cambridge and to fight chronic pain using synthetic Botox at University College London, UK.
  • In surgical research on sheep at Lund University, Sweden, freeze-dried valves – later rehydrated for transplantation – were used in animal heart surgery for first time.
  • A team from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), Madrid, Spain, succeeded in curing pulmonary fibrosis disease in mice using a gene therapy.
  • In Belgium, researchers at EARA members VIB, KU Leuven and UZ Leuven used mice to develop new antibacterial drugs.
  • Building on a technique developed in rats, Swiss researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, have announced that stimulating a person’s spinal cord can restore voluntary movement in some paralysed patients (see picture).

Scientists are also developing new biomedical treatments and techniques that replace, refine or reduce (3Rs) the use of animals in research.

  • A team from the University of Oxford, UK, and EARA member Janssen Pharmaceutica, Belgiumwon the International 3Rs Prize using a computer model that predicts accurately the risk of drug-induced heart arrhythmias in humans.

Animal research is integral to ongoing research in areas such as spinal cord repair, stem cell treatments (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), gene therapy (muscular dystrophy, diabetes) and molecularly targeted cancer medicines.
Historically, animal research has also led to new diagnostic tests for early treatment (cancer, heart disease); and effective treatments for serious illnesses (diabetes, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease).

The same research often helps humans and animals (treatments for arthritis, neurological disorders, organ transplants, cancer therapies) and contributes to farm animal welfare and techniques to save endangered species.

EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “Without the use of animals the pace of advances in biomedical research would be dramatically slower.

“Finding alternative methods to animal research, such as computer models and cell cultures are extremely important, but animal testing remains the safest and most effective way to produce drugs and treatments for us all.”

Top ten UK universities for animal research announced

 A list of the ten UK universities that conduct the highest number of animal procedures has been published by Understanding Animal Research (UAR).

The statistics have been gathered from figures found on the universities’ websites as part of their ongoing commitment to transparency and openness.

The ten institutions collectively conducted over one third of all UK animal research in 2017 all have signed up to the Concordat on Openness on Animals Research.

The top three in the list are University of Oxford (236,429 procedures), University of Edinburgh (225,366) and University College London (214,570).

Wendy Jarrett, chief executive of UAR, said: “The Concordat has fostered a culture of openness at research institutions up and down the UK.

“Almost two-thirds of the university Concordat signatories provide their animal numbers openly on their websites – accounting for almost 90% of all animal research at UK universities.“

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